Do you ‘bubble wrap’ your kids?

We need to stop protecting children from all the pains of the world and help them build resilience, psychologist Sally O’Reilly tells Mary Rose McCarthy
Do you ‘bubble wrap’ your kids?

Learning to share possessions, or take turns at playing different games, helps develop the vital skills of communication and interaction, and build resilience.

AS much as we would like to safely bubble wrap our children and protect them from the pains of this world, in the end they will grow up to be much more successful, well-adjusted, happy adults if we help them deal with the hurdles and setbacks that happen in any life.

If young people learn to cope with the downsides of life, they will equally learn to enjoy the good times even more.

Cork-based psychologist and psychotherapist Sally O’ Reilly has tips that help make children resilient. First, she defines what resilience is and is not.

“Resilience is NOT about being bulletproof. It’s about being shot, feeling the pain, soothing the wound, taking the time to heal and then, when we’re ready, re-emerging. Horrible experiences have a way of helping us cope and learn so we can be better equipped to deal with future pain (and maybe better able to avoid getting shot!)

“Teach your child how to make friends and that it’s OK to ask them for help,” says Sally.

Encourage your child how to help others when they falter. This has a wonderful feelgood factor and is also empowering for your child.

Help children nourish and sustain friendships. Playing team sports, or joining a club, help foster a sense of give and take.

“Learning to share possessions, or take turns at playing different games, helps develop the vital skills of communication and interaction.

It’s never too early to learn how to deal with people, and to learn to ask for help in tricky situations.

Another important tip in building resilience is to listen.

“Listening is one of the most important ways that we can build resilience,” says expert on resilience in children, Dr Justin Coulson, GP.

If children know and trust that you will listen without judgement, they will have the confidence to turn to you when things go awry.

Children often live in a definite black and white world. It takes time to learn that there are grey areas in life, but if they can talk about confusing or difficult situations, with a trusted adult they will learn to navigate the vagaries of life.


Sally notes that sleep is important to the growth, development, and emotional wellbeing of children.

A regular habit of going to bed at the same time each night and without any ‘screens’ in the bedroom, will ensure a child gets a good night’s sleep. It’s also a good idea not to allow any screen activity during the hour immediately before bed.

Meanwhile, psychologist Dr Phillipa Leonard has outlined that diet plays a vital role too.

“A varied diet comprising the major food groups, in which junk food and treats are kept to a minimum, is essential for the development of healthy bodies, and minds,” she says.

Some soft and sports drinks, are full of calories and offer little in the way of nutrition. Simple water is the best hydration.

Dr Leonard also suggests: “A walk in the park. Exercise not only focuses the mind, it’s also good for body and soul.”

Psychologist Sally O’Reilly
Psychologist Sally O’Reilly


It’s OK to fail, Sally says. Accepting failure as part of the same line that includes success is crucial to our development of resilience. In this way, we can teach a child that ‘failure’ is often a step, not the last step; rather it’s one of many. This teaches the child to embrace mistakes and their humanity.

There is an anecdote that says Thomas Edison made literally thousands of light bulbs before he came up with one that worked. Imagine if Edison had given up at the first failed attempt.

Edison never let failure get the better of him. Likewise, we need to teach children that it’s OK to get something wrong. The key is to keep trying.


Sally also advises you set ‘realistic goals’, working towards them, even in baby steps, is rewarding and encouraging.

Unrealistic goals will have the opposite effect on us AND our kids! Make wise choices.

Teaching children right from wrong, how to make wise choices, rather than looking for quick fixes to a problem, fosters resilience.

A large part of this is helping young people see that actions have consequences. Very few life events are random.


Change is normal, says Sally, even though it’s scary — especially for young kids and teens. But we can re-frame change as an opportunity rather than simply inconvenience, loss or ending — which is how we often perceive it.

Sally concludes by saying: “Can you see how all children can benefit from being resilient? In fact, adults can benefit as well!

“When you feel the need to wallow in your sorrows and self-pity, think about your own self-worth and gather the strength you can from it.

“Perhaps catastrophes and downfalls in our lives all happen for a reason. So let it take its course and take advantage of what you can learn from it, rather than the alternative, which could involve a great deal of self-pity.”


Resilient people have dreams and goals for the future which are realistic and attainable. The best way to foster this in children is to model it ourselves.

By our own resilient attitude to life, we show the way for children to acknowledge their passions and dreams. Some people are, by nature, more resilient than others, it seems nothing life throws at them fazes them. However, the good news is, all of us can develop resilience. It’s never too early to start learning such an essential life skill.


More in this section

Sponsored Content


Catch up on the latest episode of Annie May and the Hit Brigade written and read by  Mahito Indi Henderson.

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more